Day Twenty-One: Goodbye Senegal

Who would have thought it would be so hard? After all, it’s just another country, admittedly with astoundingly different landscapes, animals and architecture. I took lots of pictures of my surroundings so I’ll be able to remember the details of Senegal.

That’s all very fine but what of the people? They are the joy, with their smiles of welcome, their “Ça va?”s and their touches. When a child walks into a group situation, all but the youngest stroll around shaking hands. Women greet men and women with three kisses on the cheek – left right left or right left right. Take your pick. Be ready to immerse yourself in “I’m glad you’re here.” Have it be fine to touch and be touched, whether you’re with the young or old. Touching is a gift of communion. Only with your partner is it also about sex. I realize at home I can’t walk around the schoolyard holding hands with kids but it sure happens in Senegal.

This morning, as we prepared to get on the van for the four hour ride to Dakar, Ali, Aziz and Ansou – three brothers – were there to say goodbye. Ali and I took each other’s hands and looked into each other’s eyes for thirty seconds or so. Then we hugged, and I brushed the backs of my fingers against his cheek. “Je t’aime” were the words from me to him. His eyes said the same.

I had talked to a young woman named Nima over the last eleven days, and then this morning. She doesn’t know much English and I’m the same with French. Just before I took the step up into the van, we looked into each other … and waved. Time stood still.

On the surface of things, the Senegalese folks don’t have much. Everyone seems to own a cell phone but that’s one of their very few modern pleasures. But, oh, how rich the people are. You feel it.

Mother Teresa was speaking in the United States some years ago. Reporters were curious about the extent of poverty in India. She admitted that physical life was very hard for many residents. “But here in North America, you are truly impoverished.” Wanting in spirit, in “being with”, in caring.

I’m now on a plane from Lisbon, Portugal to Brussels, Belgium. The hot temperatures are long gone. Some of us are busy with our Smartphones, even though there is no internet connection. The meal, all nice and tidy in its plastic containers, was delicious. Something is missing, however. Perhaps it’s up to me to bring it to life.

On the previous leg, from Dakar to Lisbon, I sat beside a woman who was … “prickly”. She and her husband were returning from a group birdwatching tour in Senegal and Gambia. I asked her about the birds she most enjoyed but it soon became clear that she didn’t want to talk. It seemed that she wasn’t keen on talking to her husband either. As soon as the plane had come to a complete stop, she was out of her seat like a shot, getting her stuff from the overhead bin. No goodbye. And that’s okay. She has her life to lead.

But I miss Iced Tea, Fatou, Nano, Ja Ja, Bakary, Boundao and Mamadou. I’ve been spoiled.

Ahh … Senegal. What’s possible between you and me?